Black mermaid looking up at the surface and swimming in front of whales. One of the covers for "The Deep." Image: Simon & Schuster

The 19 Best Standalone Fantasy Novels if You’re Looking For a Quick Adventure

Epic fantasy series are great. But sometimes you don’t want to commit to three or more novels! Sometimes you’re just looking for a quick read, or a story that stands on its own.

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If that’s the case, then look no further. Here are 12 of our favorite standalone fantasy novels. Some of them have sequels, and others are even part of trilogies, but all of them are self-contained stories.

Babel, or The Necessity of Violence by R. F. Kuang

Babel by R. F. Kuang
Harper Voyager

R. F. Kuang’s Babel is an astonishing achievement: it’s a gripping fantasy saga, a fascinating look at what Oxford University might look like if magic were real, and an incisive criticism of colonization and white supremacy. Robin is taken from his home in China as a boy, and raised in Oxford to become a translator. In this world, though, translators are the keepers of magic, exploiting the lacunae between languages to warp the fabric of reality. Robin loves his life among the Oxford elite, but gradually realizes that he’s being used as a tool of empire.

The Beginning Place by Ursula K. Le Guin

Cover of The Beginning Place by Ursula K. Le Guin
Tor

Although Ursula K. le Guin is known primarily for her Earthsea series, she’s written many wonderful standalone novels, too. In The Beginning Place, Hugh finds a portal leading to the magical land of Tembreabreazi. There, he meets a fellow traveler named Irene, and together they’re entrusted with a quest that no one else can undertake. This novel is a breezy yet moving story of love and magic.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Cover of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Faber & Faber

Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple living in Britain in the wake of King Arthur’s adventures, decide to go visit their son. However, a strange mist covering the land has caused mass amnesia, so they have no idea who their son is or what he looks like. Thus begins a strange odyssey, filled with poignant reflections on memory, heroism, and love.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Cover of daughter of the forest
Tor

Although Daughter of the Forest is technically the first novel in a trilogy, each book focuses on a different set of characters, so there’s very little connection between them. A retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Wild Swans,” Daughter of the Forest tells the story of Sorcha, a girl living in medieval Ireland. When Sorcha’s stepmother puts a curse on her family, Sorcha must retreat to the forest to work the magic that will free them. This book is a sumptuous tapestry filled with fairies, magic, and Irish legend.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, and William Hutson. Image: Gallery / Saga Press
Saga Press

Yetu, a mermaid living in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, is entrusted with a painful role: she’s her people’s Historian, in charge of remembering their pregnant ancestors who were thrown overboard from slave ships long ago. When the horrific memories become too much for Yetu to bear, she flees to the surface—and discovers a new way forward for her people. The Deep is a heartbreaking allegory of grief, injustice, and healing.

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Cover of Nettle and Bone.
Tor

T. Kingfisher is mostly known for her horror novels (What Moves the Dead, The Twisted Ones), but she’s also made a name for herself as an author of dark fantasy. Nettle and Bone tells the story of Marra, a humble nun who was born a princess. When Marra learns that her sister is suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her powerful husband, she sets out on an unconventional rescue mission. Check this one out if you’re tired of the same old fairy tale tropes, and in the mood for an unforgettable heroine. If you want more of Kingfisher’s fantasy, you can also read her new novella Thornhedge.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Covers of Good Omens, one with an illustration of Crowley, and the other with Aziraphale.
HarperTorch

Would any fantasy list be complete without Good Omens? The angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley have spent the last few millennia on Earth, and when the time comes to prepare for Judgement Day, they decide they like it too much to let it all go up in flames. The inspiration for the Prime Video adaptation starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, Good Omens is a masterpiece of diabolical humor.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Cover of Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Beacon Press

If you haven’t read this classic novel yet, now’s the time. In Kindred, Dana, a writer living in modern day Los Angeles, is suddenly pulled through time and space to the home of her enslaved ancestors. There, she gradually learns that her visits have a terrible purpose: to save the life of a white slaveowner named Rufus, whose survival is necessary for Dana’s existence. Only Octavia Butler could weave together a gripping story like this one. Some readers might argue that it’s science fiction instead of fantasy, but the point is, it’s great.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Cover of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Ace

The inspiration for the classic animated movie, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn tells the story of a unicorn who finds out that she’s the only one of her kind left in the world. Teaming up with the hapless Schmendrick the Magician and the jaded but warm-hearted Molly Grue, the unicorn travels far and wide to find out where her people have gone. This short novel is equal parts adventure, comedy, and heartbreak.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

As perhaps the penultimate modern Arthurian story, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King brought a touch of humanity to the classic legend. Unlike other Arthurian renditions, White gave each major character a set of realistic flaws and desires, all with a humorous, clever narrative tone. What also makes The Once and Future King notable is its heavy anti-war themes and sensibilities, as it was written and published following the second world war.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Book cover of Maggie Stiefvater's Scorpio Races.

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is the sort of fantastic novel that you wish would get adapted, but you know that any adaptation would fail to properly capture its magic. Inspired heavily by Celtic folklore, the story takes place on the fictional isle of Thisby, where carnivorous, dangerous capaill uisces (a.k.a. water horses) dwell. Each November, riders attempt to tame one of these horses, and win the infamous Scorpio Races with them. But whether they emerge dead or alive is never guaranteed.

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Cover of Silver in the Wood
Tordotcom

When young Henry Silver arrives to take his place as the new owner of Greenhollow Hall, he’s surprised to find that the local legends are true: there’s a 400-year-old wild man living in the woods. However, gruff but gentle Tobias isn’t at all what Henry expected. Thus begins Silver in the Wood, a sweet, delicate romance steeped in myth and folklore. The sequel, Drowned Country, is also worth checking out, but Silver in the Wood is perfect on its own.

Spear by Nicola Griffith

Cover of Spear by Nicola Griffith
Tordotcom

Spear, written by the author of the beloved historical novel Hild, is a queer retelling of the Arthurian legend of Percival, one of the knights of the Round Table. Peretur, a girl living in the wilderness with her mother, decides to travel to Camelot to pledge her service to Artos, king of Caer Leon. As she sets out to prove herself as a warrior, she encounters magic, bloodshed, and no end of adventure. Come for Nicola Griffith’s rich and lyrical prose, stay for a character you’ll fall in love with.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Cover of Stardust by Neil Gaiman
William Morrow

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust was originally released as a four-part series, and then later released as a trade paperback. Tristran Thorn lives on the border of Faerie, unaware that he’s half-Faerie himself. When Tristran sees a falling star, he offers to retrieve it for his sweetheart Victoria—and ends up on a magical adventure involving a dying Lord and a temperamental star. The story alone is wonderful, but if at all possible, find an addition that includes Charles Vess’s original illustrations.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Cover of Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
Del Rey

Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is based on Polish folklore, inspired by stories the author heard while growing up. It follows the tale of Agnieszka, a fledgling witch who hones her powers under the tutelage of The Dragon, a brusque wizard who holds dominion over her village in return for protective services. The magic in this series is wild and natural, abiding by a chaotic principle that’s incredibly interesting to read about. Agnieszka herself is a fantastic protagonist, one who you really see grow over the course of the novel, from an insecure, easily frightened girl into a powerful, confident young woman.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Cover of Spinning Silver.
Del Rey

If you like Uprooted, then you’ll want to read Naomi Novik’s other standalone fantasy, Spinning Silver. This take on Rumplestiltskin features a Jewish heroine named Miryem, who unwittingly draws the attention of the king of a fairy race called the Staryk. Pulled into a game of wits she never asked for, Miryem is launched on a journey that transforms everyone around her.

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

Cover of Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst.
Margaret K. McElderry

Liyana is ready and willing to become her people’s Vessel: a human who gives up their life so that a god can inhabit their body and help their people survive. However, when the ritual to call in Liyana’s goddess fails, she’s blamed for it, and abandoned in the desert. Liyana soon finds out that the problem doesn’t lie with her. Something is happening to the gods, and it’s up to Liyana and other failed vessels to find out what.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Cover of A Stranger in Olondria.
Small Beer Press

A Stranger in Olondria tells the story of Jevick, a bookish young merchant who’s dreamed of the land of Olondria all his life. However, when he finally gets to travel there, he’s sucked into a harrowing adventure by the ghost of a young girl.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Cover of Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Berkley

Tigana is an entire epic fantasy series crammed into one novel, and it works. The kingdom of Tigana is crushed by its brutal neighbor, Corte. As punishment for Tigana’s uprising, the tyrannical Brandin works magic that prevents anyone who wasn’t born in Tigana from remembering its name or existence. This novel is both an engrossing story and a poignant reminder of the importance of cultural memory.

(featured image: Saga Press)


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